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By Kimberley Morrill, phD

Do you think cows have emotions? Do you think cows feel pain? Do animals exhibit empathy, sympathy and compassion? These were the questions asked to the attendees of the 2018 Dairy Cattle Welfare Symposium. Speakers, farmers and industry representatives from around the globe gathered in Scottsdale, AZ May 31st – June 1st, 2018 to discuss the intersection of best practices and sustainability as it ties back to dairy cattle welfare.

Animal welfare is an important issue to consumers.

Currently, Americans care more about animal welfare than children’s education or hunger. Those are the results of the third “Causes Americans Care About” study, conducted by the global communications firm Ketchum. Responses from 1,000 adults found 41% picked animal welfare as their No. 1 cause. Children’s education ranked second with 38% of respondents, followed by hunger with 33% of respondents. Why should we (dairy educators, dairy farmers and industry support) care or worry about this? Because these are our consumers. We need to know what their concerns are, and how to address them. We also need to be honest about the day to day management practices that occur in animal production.

Some of our best management practices might not always be “pretty” visually to a consumer but it is what is best for the animal. An example of this would be hoof trimming. In early July social media was abuzz with a picture of a “cow crusher”. What was happening to this poor cow? Very simple, she was having her feet trimmed in a hoof trimming shoot. A very common and safe practice. She was being restrained and properly taken care of. To anyone with an agricultural background, a picture of a cow in a hoof trimming shoot is just that, to someone in the general public, it is a scary looking picture. We need to take the time to explain what is occurring, in terms the general public understand – the cow is receiving a pedicure, 1800 pound animals don’t fit well into salon chairs, and sometimes they get a little finicky and kick. For the safety of the animal and the person, she is restrained.

More and more consumers only see the dairy industry through pictures online. Mandi McLeod from New Zealand, presented on “lessons learned”. Farmers (regardless of country) are 1. focused on producing food in a continually changing climate in a sustainable manner and 2. At risk of being pulled down by the minority (ie: 1 bad egg, 1 farmer who doesn’t care). Consumers have concerns, as stated above about animal welfare. So, how can we win the war and show consumers that we care, and do the best to take care of our animals? Incremental improvements overtime.

1. Seek to understand, and then be understood
2. Listen to the concerns. LISTEN. Don’t list to respond or react. Listen to understand and then address their concern.
3. Animal care programs must treat all farmers fairly by taking into account the landscape in which they operate. These programs need to be realistic with minimum standards and unapologetic in accountability and consequences. As an industry we should be raising the bar and raising our compliance rates, not the other way around.

At the end of the day, we, the DAIRY INDUSTRY, are only as good as the weakest link. We all play a role in animal welfare. Yes, we are dealing with market vulnerability and low milk prices, but is this an acceptable excuse for poor animal care? NO.

Dairy farmers are all human, and have different belief systems and different opinions. We need to approach animal welfare and best management practices as a team sport. We cannot continue to defend the indefensible. We need to work together with each other (dairy farmers, cooperatives, EVERYONE) to rethink the problem and challenges around animal welfare, both from a consumer’s view- point and a farmer’s view-point) and continue to develop an evolving approach. We cannot become complacent, but need to be open to new ideas and evolve as new management practices and technologies become available. As an industry, we have a collective responsibility to clearly identify the issue(s) and have a voice in the solution(s).

Kimberley Morrill is a dairy management specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension North Country Regional Agriculture Team

Improve hand milking cleanliness for small ruminants with these few simple techniques

By Miriah Reynolds

The morning sun sneaks up and over the tall peak of the mountains as I open up the barn door. I am greeted by squinting eyes and eager faces. Pepper, my Saanen doe

Star, 5 year old Toggenburg doe, eagerly awaits to be milked

stretches and curls her upper lip, grunting in the process. She’s not a morning goat, and needs to be motivated out of the barn. Star, my older milker, races out of the barn, grabs a mouthful of alfalfa, and waits quietly at the gate. Milking twice a day I suppose is my farm girl ritual; feed, water, milk, repeat. Offer a few good scratches and maybe a treat in the methodical movements of my routine. This year my goal was to revamp my cleanliness during milking to an even higher standard. Each day I challenge myself on improving efficiency and obtain the cleanest, purest milk possible. I will share my insight on my method of hand milking; where it begins in the barn to the conclusion in the kitchen. Keep in mind I have small herd that I milk by hand for my own consumption. My goats are not a business, but a passion and hobby. Still, many of these lessons are useful at any scale of milking.

It all begins in the barn

Clean milk starts with healthy goats and a tidy barn. My husband will tell you that one of my favorite things to do around our farm is clean the barn. Yes, I’ll admit that my obsession for keeping the barn odor, manure, pest, and clutter free is a bit excessive. However; I believe that the barn is a major factor in a healthy herd and cleanly milk. Proper ventilation, good lighting, and adequate bedding are very important. My goats have 24/7 access to quality hay, clean water, and mineral. I use pine shavings as bedding in their stalls. Every morning the barn is ‘spot’ cleaned and allowed to air dry. In the evening fresh shavings are added. For me, the cost of ‘spot’ cleaning daily is more effective than cleaning once in a while and replacing all the bedding. By doing such, I have almost eliminated any manure that may stick to the goats’ udder or body.

Stainless steel milking equipment.

Proper equipment

Stainless steel equipment is necessary for optimal milk handling. It is easy to clean, sanitize, and does not harbor odors like plastic. Stainless steel doesn’t alter the taste of milk and is very durable. I use a stainless steel 5 quart milking pail, an 8 quart milking tote (with lid), and a strainer. There are dozens of styles and sizes of milking equipment that will meet the needs of most any herd size. I milk into the pail and filter into the tote.  All milking equipment is cleaned in the dishwasher on the sanitize setting. Stainless steel is corrosion resistant so pails and other equipment will last for years if taken care of properly. Having the right equipment makes the milking process so much simpler and effective for a reasonable initial investment.

In the milking stand

Chores start with feeding the goats individually outside the barn. By separate feeding, I am able to monitor consumption and have zero grain wasted. The goats can take their time munching away while I clean the barn and fill waters. Once in the milking stand, my girls stand peacefully chewing their cud. Brushing swift whisks over the entire body removes a tremendous amount of dirt, loose hair, and debris. The milking stand is set up to where I can walk completely around it, giving the opportunity to see all sides of the goats. I look at her eyes and give a loving face brushing. I make mental notes of her nose, rear, and attitude. It’s rewarding to do a brief

Milking my Toggenburg by hand.

evaluation of my goats and spending a few quality moments with them before milking. Star worships the attention while Pepper appears unenthused. After brushing, the udder is gently washed with a clean cloth soaked in a chlorhexidine based udder wash. Once her udder is clean and dry, I wash my hands. One simple trick is placing a cloth underneath the milk pail. It works wonderful because anything that maybe on the milking stand does not stick to the bottom of the bucket, and later end up on the kitchen counter! It’s important to keep the handle of the milk pail towards the front of the goat and not by her dirty back hooves. Discard the first couple squirts and then milk normally. I filter the milk into the 8qt stainless steel tote and secure the lid. By filtering the milk immediately up at the barn, it doesn’t sit with any missed debris for more than a couple minutes. The closed milk tote does wonderful at keeping any pesky bugs or pollen from falling in.  It’s important to use a clean
cloth for each goat to reduce contamination between udders. Cloths can be washed with bleach on an as needed basis.

The does are returned to their paddock, relieved and ready for the day. They migrate over to the hay and casually bicker. Dust, snorts and quick glimpses of running kids ensure that they are happy causing havoc on the hillside. They seem content for now, and this evening the whole process with be repeated.

In the kitchen

My adorable goat barn is quite a ways from my house, so it’s a long, dusty hike down the hill with a full pail of milk. The milk tote was one of the best investments in advancing milk handling because now it actually makes it to the house and not spilled into my boots! Once at the house, all counters are disinfected, and the glass jars have been sanitized. The milk is filtered a second time into ½ gallon glass jars and refrigerated immediately. I prefer the half gallon jars because from my experience the milk cools faster. Cooling of the milk is crucial for taste and reducing bacteria growth.

The goat milk from my little heavenly farm is so delicious and even better when transformed into cheeses, yogurts, caramel, and other delectable creations. I am excited to keep improving my technique and share it along the way. These simple steps can drastically reduce the amount of debris in milk. I invite you to evaluate your own milking routine and find simple ways of improving cleanliness. As a wise Montana rancher once told me “Goat farming is a process, not an event!”


About the Author

I graduated from Montana State University with a degree in Animal Science and have the most amazing herd of dairy goats. Goats, agriculture, and sharing my stories is truly my passion. I was raised on the Reynolds Barn goat dairy in Rhode Island. I love to hear from readers; Miriah Reynolds Bitterwind Ranch at


This article was also published in Goat Keeper magazine in Canada. October 2018.

By Ulf Kintzel

Failure in grass-fed sheep enterprises is still very common. I hear about it often since I am the one being asked why it failed. Among the many reasons why grass-fed sheep operation failed is the misconception of the frequency of pasture rotation. When breeding stock I have sold is picked up from my farm, the buyers often want to know how I do it. Some of these buyers who already have sheep are convinced they are doing rotational grazing. I follow up with the question how often they rotate. Rarely do I hear a number between one and five days. Almost always do I hear about a rotational schedule of a week and more. It then comes to those folks’ surprise when I unambiguously state that this is not rotational grazing.

So, how do we define rotational grazing and what schedule for a pasture rotation is best? Let me start with the common misconception of rotational grazing. Some people have more than one grazing cell. Numbers may vary between two or three or four. They graze a cell down, which may take a week or two or even more and then they “rotate” the flock into the next pasture. The mere fact that the flock was rotated has some of those with whom I discuss the issue convinced they do rotational grazing. However, the fact that the flock was moved from one pasture to another does not constitute rotational grazing. The growing pattern of grass defines it.

When grass has been grazed, it starts re-growing after a certain number of days. At some point, this regrowth becomes desirable enough for sheep to be grazed again. The moment that occurs, the moment the sheep graze this regrowth, the pasture rotation no longer qualifies as rotational grazing. While grass grows back with different speed at different times of the year and again under different conditions, the magic number for re-growth is one week. Any rotational schedule beyond one week does not qualify as rotational grazing. That means a rotational schedule should be less that one week. The number of days for each rotation that successful grass farmers practice varies between three to five days and all the way down to a twice-a-day rotation.

Good rotations mean happy animals and healthy pasture.

Let’s start with a three to five-day rotation and let’s see what happens with each passing day of grazing that cell. The first day you let the sheep into the pasture, they will selectively graze what tastes best. On day two they are likely to still have plenty desirable plants to eat. On day three these plants are now scares or gone and less desirable plants must be grazed. They will graze them, but intake is down. In addition, they will start taking down the desirable plants a little more, making it harder to leave enough residual – a key issue for successful grazing – in all places. Day four or five leaves only less desirable plants. While the sheep will now get a little hungrier and are more willing to eat them, intake is still down. Perhaps your grazing cell was so large, that this grazing pattern did not quite apply, that desirable plants lasted for three or four or even five days. That in turn means that undesirable plants were not eaten, and that animal pressure was not high enough. This would not be sustainable to maintain a pasture with predominantly desirable pasture species and it will most definitely not be sustainable if you are paying a mortgage and property taxes on the land you graze.

Once a day rotation means you have exactly the amount of forage in the pasture that the sheep should have that day while still leaving the desirable four inches of residual. Due to a higher grazing pressure, grazing is less selective. Undesirable plant species are eaten more willingly. It is a well-established fact. Being able to graze less desirable plant species is good since you utilize more of your pasture. Manure distribution is also more even. However, it is anything but easy to gauge the right size of a grazing cell for just a day. Some of you may also know rotational grazing under the name management-intensive grazing, or MIG. Jim Gerrish, a well-known advocate for it, takes credit for having coined that term. Those who know him or have listened to him will also know that he is not getting tired of pointing out that the “intensive” part of MIG refers entirely to the management and not at all to the grazing. After having practiced rotational grazing or MIG for decades, I can assure you that the management is indeed intensive. It is not simple and the wheels in your head will have to keep turning daily for as long as you practice this way of farming.

Since I had my exterior woven wire fence completed and have the whole farm fenced in, I have been practicing a once daily pasture rotation using my electric nettings. Prior to it, my pasture rotation was on average two to three days. A rotation of four or five days did occur at times. A daily rotation was not possible for me because of the amount of electric nettings I would have had to erect and take down again. The permanent exterior fence made it possible. I can clearly see the benefits of a daily rotation compared to one every several days. The pasture is grazed more evenly. Undesirable plants are eaten more readily. Manure distribution is more even. Intake is high. Residual is better managed. What is the “downside”? It requires constant and continues thinking. There is no break ever during grazing season.

A twice-daily rotation is very stringed. It is “easy” when you are a dairy farmer. You are already moving the herd out of the pasture in the morning for the first milking of the day. You might as well put them in fresh pasture afterwards. When producing milk, a rotation twice a day makes perfect sense. You see the difference in the milk tank. It is a little different for grass-fed sheep when you produce meat. You must make an extra effort to rotate a second time a day. The additional benefit – if any – is marginal for meat production, but the extra effort is anything but marginal. I have not found that extra effort beneficial enough to practice it. I continue doing a once daily rotation.

Research has conclusively shown that you get more production of your land when you rotate frequently. The amount of increased production is significant. So, focusing on management and rotating frequently has a real impact on the tonnage grown in your pasture, on the animals you can graze per acre, and therefore on your wallet. I encourage you to go for a two to three-day rotation and perhaps even for a daily rotation. It is well worth it.


Ulf owns and operates White Clover Sheep Farm and breeds and raises grass-fed White Dorper sheep and Kiko goats without any grain feeding and offers breeding stock suitable for grazing. He is a native of Germany and lives in the US since 1995. He farms in the Finger Lakes area in upstate New York. His website address is He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone during “calling hour” specified on his answering machine at 585-554-3313.

Two farmers are committed to providing the Buffalo, NY community with a variety of produce.

By Lynnette Wright, New York FSA Public Affairs and Outreach Specialist

A Perfect Blend 

Carrie and Alex with rows of abundant vegetables.

Prior to their partnership, Carrie Nader had been working the land since 2014. When she was growing up, she loved helping her grandfather tend his large garden. When she moved to the Lower West Side region, she bought several city lots at reduced prices to start her urban farm.

Alex Wadsworth started working for the operation in 2016, lending his knowledge of horticulture techniques, which helped improve the productivity of the farm. Previously, he attended culinary school, which inspired him to learn more about how the food he was cooking was grown. In this pursuit, he learned about World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and travelled to Maine to work on farms. After returning to Buffalo, Wadsworth learned about Nader’s operation, and began working with her.

In 2016, the partners focused on improving the infrastructure of the farm, which is completely fenced in and utilizes solar power. Nader and Wadsworth worked with the Erie County Soil and Water Conservation Service District and local USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to get financial assistance for a high tunnel. High tunnels protect plants from severe weather and allow farmers to extend their growing seasons-earlier in the spring and later into the fall.

Westside Tilth Farm is now growing over 400 tomato plants in the high tunnel with hopes of producing more than 200 pounds of tomatoes a week.

Better Beds 

Another infrastructure improvement they have made is to increase their number of growing beds. They have planted 120 beds this year, with a wide variety of vegetables, greens, herbs and alliums. The beds are placed on a geotextile barrier, which allows water to flow through, but not soil. Concerned with possible contaminants in the city soil, they brought in more than 600 yards of soil and compost to place on top of the geotextile barrier.

Improvements with Microloans

To further enhance their operation, Nader and Wadsworth applied for a microloan from USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). This low-interest loan allowed them to build a wash station for produce, install more beds, purchase four small portable high tunnels and place a mushroom grow house, their newest venture.

Mushroom production on the farm.

“None of this would have been possible without the loan from Farm Service Agency,” Nader said. “The wash area alone cuts our work time down significantly.”

The wash area includes a drained concrete pad, a 150-gallon bubble washer and a retro-fitted washing machine to spin the greens dry, with a shade cloth overhead. From here their greens go to a walk-in cooler to maintain the freshness of their veggies.

Produce from Westside Tilth Farm is sold three ways – to local restaurants, through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and a farmer’s market they hold two days a week on the farm.

The markets are on Tuesday and Friday evenings, and this year, they will also be making and selling pizza at the Friday market.

“I really enjoy letting our consumers in the gates to see the farm and how we grow the food they’re buying,” Wadsworth said. “We’re trying to make Friday a very social event, we want a line out the door to get in and buy vegetables.”

In the future they’d like to add more social events, such as farm dinners or farm tours.

“It’s a lot of work,” Wadsworth said. “You have to put everything into the farm to make it successful. It’s a sacrifice, but it’s worth it. We love what we do.”


Lynnette Wright, New York FSA Public Affairs and Outreach Specialist, can be reached at 315-477-6309 or 

For more information about USDA programs and services, contact your local USDA service center. To find your local service center, visit

Rich Taber, CCE Chenango

In the previous four installments of this series on chainsaw operation we have looked at some of the myriad rules for safe and efficient chainsaw operation. We have looked at the protective gear that is needed by an operator, the safety considerations with the use of the chainsaw itself, and some of the training that is available for chainsaw users.  In this final installment, we will look at the actual felling of a tree.

Some of the key points to make cuts to safely fell a tree. (see edit to original caption below)

Safety is always of paramount concern when felling trees and the statistics bear this out, in that logging is the most hazardous occupation in the United States.  Granted, much progress has been made in recent years, with more and more safety training and certification of loggers being demanded.  However, many of the readers of this publication will not be professional loggers and oftentimes slip through the cracks with little or no formal training in the safe use of chainsaws.  An important focus of this article will be on the use of the correct felling notches to use, which in recent years has changed dramatically.

Now that we have arrived in the woods to fell trees, what are some of the precautions that we should take?  First, you might consider having someone else nearby so that if anything bad occurs, that second person can summon help. The presence of a good first aid kit with a blood clotting sponge and trauma kit is imperative to have nearby as well, as well as a fully charged cell phone on your person.

The safety zone once the tree starts to fall (B) is 45 degrees on either side from the direction of the fall (A)

We need to look at the tree that we are going to fell, and  make sure  that there are no “widow makers” in or near that tree; widow makers are dead branches high overhead that can easily come crashing down on you. If they are present, go on to another tree! You also don’t want a tree to be near any power lines, houses, or other buildings. If the tree in question is near buildings, perhaps it would be more prudent to hire an experienced arborist or tree surgeon, rather than “your buddy from work” who happens to own a chainsaw. (Try explaining to your neighbor why there is a tree on top of their house or vehicle that you or “your buddy” just dropped it onto; there will be red faces and lots of liability all around!). You also need to clear any brushy stems in your felling area that might get tangled up and trip you, or catch on your clothes and impede your escape when the tree begins to fall.

You will need to have a clear escape route to move to when the tree begins to fall, at about a 45-degree angle to the tree away from the felling direction. You do not want to be moving away from the falling tree in a straight line in the direction that it is falling; trees have been known to kickback off the stump and kill and injure people.  This brings us to the crux of this article, the felling notches to be used.

One of the included illustrations shows the long used, but now obsolete conventional felling notch, which should be replaced with open faced notches.  Many publications still show this obsolete and unsafe notch, and is used by many people in practice, even in this modern era of new and better information available such as from “The Game of Logging”.  What is wrong with this notch? The problem is that this notch oftentimes allows the tree to hang up on the notch when it falls to the ground, resulting in the tree still in the air and incompletely fallen.

The open face felling notch is part of the method known as directional felling, and was promulgated by the world-renowned Soren Ericson, who brought much of these newer and more efficient felling methods to North America from Europe.  These methods have been adopted by the forest products industry all over.  The open face notch has now replaced the conventional notch, and the illustrations show the gist of the details.  Directional felling allows you to control exactly where the tree will fall, but does take a bit of training and experience to become competent in its methods.

Directional felling, which uses a “plunge” cut and wedges to better control the safe felling of a tree.

The safe felling of a tree using an open face notch consists of making three precise and strategic cuts; the top cut, the pluge cut, and the back or felling cut. Felling wedges can then be used during the final cut to assist the tree in beginning to fall. Once the tree starts to fall, you move away from the tree at the aforementioned 45-degree angle as shown in the image. This technique is very safe once learned, but takes some dedicated practice to get it right.

What do we do if the tree hangs up, and doesn’t make it to the ground?  This is where a logging winch mounted to a tractor comes in handy; and is much safer than just putting a chain around the tree and pulling it down with a tractor or other vehicle. The cable on the winch allows you to get a good safe distance away from the tree for when it does fall.  Oh, by the way, the only people who never get trees hung up are those who never fell trees the right way.

In conclusion, I strongly suggest that anyone who uses a chainsaw to attend a Game of Logging session; they are held frequently and all over the Northeast.  Fell away, but be safe!



Rich Taber (M.S./M.S.F.)  is an Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chenango County New York, and  also owns a 165 acre  farm in Madison County in the Hamilton/Morrisville area where he and his wife Wendy raise beef cattle, sheep, poultry, and enjoy their 105 acre woodlot.  He can be reached at 607-334-5841, ext. 21, or


 Information about the “Game of Logging” can be found at their website, or the NY State Center for Agriculture Medicine and Health.


NOTE: The caption for the first image was changed. Here is more detail on some considerations for a correct felling notch from State Extension Forester Peter Smallidge:

“The picture aboce shows a face cut (left side of tree) that is legitimate.  The key is that the opening is 70 degrees.  Game of Logging teaches that the bottom shoulder of the cut is horizontal so that the feller can position the saw’s bar on the shoulder and then move into the plunge cut.  The pictured opening would be fine if the plunge cut is horizontal and occurs behind the apex of the notch.

The “old and dangerous” method, as noted on the pictures below, emphasizes a specific depth of the notch rather than width of notch, and illustrates “chasing the cut” by starting on the back side of the tree.”

By Fred Provenza

This excerpt is from Fred Provenza’s book Nourishment: What Animals Can Teach Us About Rediscovering Our Nutritional Wisdom (Chelsea Green Publishing, November 2018) and is reprinted with permission from the publisher.

Liking for foods is typically thought to be influenced by palatability. Webster’s dictionary defines palatable as pleasant or acceptable to the taste and hence fit to be eaten or drunk. Animal scientists usually explain palatability, though, as a liking influenced by a food’s flavor (odor and taste) and texture, or the relish an animal shows when eating a food. Plant scientists describe palatability as attributes of plants that alter an herbivore’s preference for consuming them, such as physical and chemical composition and associated plants.

Redefining Palatability

I had begun to ponder these questions about what influences an herbivore’s food choices while observing the perplexing behavior of the goats in St. George: Why didn’t the goats prefer the younger more nutritious twigs of blackbrush over older, woody, less nutritious blackbrush twigs? As it turned out, the goats helped me understand their anomalous behavior.

My colleague Beth and I began with a series of trials in which we extracted and purified secondary compounds from young twigs, mixed each purified extract individually with a pelleted food, and offered the “flavored” pellets to goats one laborious trial at a time. We did the trials during fall and winter, with no sign that any of the compounds deterred feeding by the goats. By midwinter, only one compound remained to be tested—a condensed tannin plentiful in the bark of new twigs. By process of elimination, we figured, this tannin must be the feeding deterrent.

On the first morning of the final trial, the goats ate all of the tannin-infused pellets. We were surprised and bewildered. We had tested every comp ound that might have made the goats averse to eating new blackbrush twigs, and the goats had eaten every one. How could they be so averse to eating new growth when none of the secondary compounds we’d extracted had any effect? Not only that, but at the rate the goats ate the tannin-containing pellets the first day, we had only enough tannin-containing pellets left to conduct one more trial. We’d spent months of hard work collecting twigs and then extracting and purifying that condensed tannin. We didn’t know what to do. As we pondered the situation that cold winter morning, we decided all we could do was feed the tannin-containing pellets again the next day.

Incredibly, when we offered the pellets the following day, the goats wouldn’t touch them. On this second exposure to pellets high in tannins, the goats had somehow changed their preference. It wasn’t a question of merely responding to flavor. If the goats had disliked the flavor of the tannin-infused pellets or innately recognized the pellets as something that would make them sick, they wouldn’t have eaten them so enthusiastically on the first day. At that aha moment, we realized goats didn’t innately know high-tannin pellets—or new blackbrush twigs—were bad for them. Rather, they had to learn from aversive postingestive consequences. In other words, it took a queasy stomach (nausea) to teach them not to eat foods with tannins.

To confirm that hypothesis, in a subsequent trial, we supplemented goats foraging on Cactus Flats with a small amount of polyethylene glycol, a compound that binds to tannins in the gut, alleviating their aversive postingestive effects. Goats supplemented with polyethylene glycol don’t experience the nauseating effects of tannins in blackbrush. With the deterrent effect neutralized, those goats were free to choose, and they preferred new to older growth twigs based on the higher energy, protein, and mineral content of the new twigs.

At that time, we were also studying how lithium chloride causes food aversions in sheep. Lithium chloride—once used as a substitute for table salt and to treat manic depression in humans—in excess conditions a food aversion in animals. Following the findings with blackbrush, we decided to repeat the trials with lithium chloride, but on goats as well as sheep. Sheep and goats who receive a capsule of lithium chloride acquire an aversion to any forage they ate just prior to receiving lithium chloride. Like humans, an upset stomach doesn’t necessarily cause an aversion in goats or sheep, but nausea does. At the dosages we were infusing, neither the sheep nor the goats showed any overt signs of illness. Yet, the following day they avoided the food they’d eaten just prior to receiving the lithium chloride.

Though conditioned taste aversion was of key importance in psychobiology, until the study with goats and blackbrush, neither we nor other scientists had a clue that secondary compounds in plants were communicating with cells and organ systems in herbivore bodies, providing feedback that changed liking for the flavor of a particular food. Rather, we had thought animals instinctively avoid foods that taste bad and choose to eat foods that taste good. During the next forty years, with this new understanding dawning, the research group I supervised carried out hundreds of studies that illustrated how likes and dislikes for the flavors of foods are caused by postingestive feedback emanating from cells, organ systems, and gut microbes.

In some studies, we worked with animals that had been made mildly deficient in primary compounds (energy, proteins, minerals, and vitamins). In our first studies, for example, we fed straw (a food with little nutritional value) to lambs deficient in energy. Some of the straw was flavored with apple; some with maple. On day one, lambs in one group were given apple-flavored straw, while lambs in the other group were given maple-flavored straw. After they ate the straw, we gave all the lambs an oral drench of water directly into the gut. On day two, lambs in the group previously fed apple-flavored straw were fed maple-flavored straw, while lambs fed maple-flavored straw were fed apple-flavored straw. After the meal of straw on day two, we gave all the lambs an oral drench of energy. After several days of that protocol, the lambs were given a choice between apple- or maple-flavored straw. They strongly preferred the flavored straw that had been paired with the boost of energy delivered directly into the gut. Thus, one group preferred apple-flavored straw while the other group preferred maple-flavored straw.

We showed that feedback strongly influences preferences for flavors paired with both primary compounds and secondary compounds (phenolics, terpenes, and alkaloids). We also found primary and secondary compounds interact with one another and with cells and organs to influence the choices animals make while foraging. The balance of primary and secondary compounds relative to needs strongly influences liking for flavors.

Secondary compounds set a limit on how much of any one food an animal can eat. Thus, animals must eat a variety of plants that contain different secondary compounds, detoxified by different means in the gut and liver, in order to meet needs for energy and protein. Cattle who forage on high mountain pastures select from a smorgasbord of plants, including larkspur, which contains toxic alkaloids. How much larkspur a cow will eat during a meal varies from day to day. Cattle recognize when they reach a toxic threshold and they stop eating larkspur for the next few days. That allows time to detoxify and eliminate those toxic alkaloids from their bodies.

Infusion studies with terpenes from sagebrush also show the sensitivity of herbivores to feedback. Terpenes give sagebrush its characteristic fragrance. Like any primary or secondary compound, in appropriate doses, terpenes are beneficial for health, but when the dose climbs too high, they become toxic. While elk, deer, cattle, and sheep use sagebrush as a nutritious forage in winter, terpenes limit their intake of sagebrush in accord with the amount of terpenes these herbivores can detoxify and eliminate from their bodies. When terpenes are slowly infused into the rumen or the bloodstream as sheep eat a meal, sheep stop eating before the amount of infused terpenes reaches a toxic level. They resume eating only after terpenes in the body decline.

Terpenes thus affect satiation (processes that bring a meal to an end) and satiety (processes that inhibit eating between meals). Lambs reduce meal size (reach satiation sooner) and increase intervals between meals (longer satiety) when their diets are high in terpenes. When animals can eat a variety of different forages, which vary in kinds of secondary compounds, what ensues are cyclic patterns of intake of different foods from meal to meal and day to day as bodies regulate intake of foods with different kinds of secondary compounds. When animals eat small amounts of a range of plants containing secondary compounds, they expose cells and microbes in their bodies to a variety of secondary compounds beneficial for health, too.

In the early years of those studies, I was amazed that administering primary or secondary compounds directly into an animal’s gut (or bloodstream) could markedly alter that animal’s liking for the flavor of a food. It was counterintuitive to my experience of eating and to all I’d been taught about how taste influences preference. To further complicate matters, ruminants—including cattle, sheep, goats, elk, and deer—are walking compost heaps. They have four-chambered stomachs, and the rumen is a huge fermentation vat that contains mixed plant material being digested by thousands of species of microbes. How could signals from primary and secondary compounds not be lost in such a heap of fermentation? Over and over again, though, goats, sheep, and cattle showed us that the signals weren’t lost in the rumen.


Fred Provenza is professor emeritus of Behavioral Ecology in the Department of Wildland Resources at Utah State University, where he directed an award-winning research group that pioneered an understanding of how learning influences foraging behavior and how behavior links soils and plants with herbivores and humans. Provenza is one of the founders of BEHAVE, an international network of scientists and land managers committed to integrating behavioral principles with local knowledge to enhance environmental, economic, and cultural values of rural and urban communities. His latest book Nourishment: What Animals Can Teach Us About Rediscovering Our Nutritional Wisdom will be published in November 2018.



By Jason Detzel

It is true that there are fewer processors today than there used to be. And on top of that, there are a lot more regulations that cost money to implement. The processors themselves are reporting to us that there is barely enough business to keep them afloat because there are very few folks processing in the springtime.

While you can’t count on more processors opening up in a given area, you can – and should – develop relationships with a few of them. The general consensus is that anything within about four hours can be considered local.

What follows are some general tips that I have acquired for when it’s time to process your animals.

1. Make your appointments at least six months in advance for large animals. Most ranchers and farmers will routinely make all of their appointments a year in advance for their entire season and if you call a couple of months out you will most certainly be put on the waiting list.

2. If you do find yourself in a bind, there is a map of slaughterhouses in New York available at:

With a few phone calls you can usually find someone to process your animal in some of the less populated areas of the state, although this will certainly require a longer trip.

The Small Farms Program maintains a map of available livestock processors in NY

3. Communicate with your processor! Every facility has their own cut sheet and a certain way that they do things. Before you fill out your cut sheet, sit down and think about what you or your customers are going to want as far as cuts go. Do you want to sell one-pound or two-pound packages of hamburger, do you want your steaks cut in one-inch or two-inch widths, and are you going to keep and package your organ meats?
You need to know this before you go in to fill out your cut sheet. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. These guys are the experts, and if they are not willing to give you a little of their time to get things right for the customer, then maybe the partnership is not a good fit.

4. Talk to other farmers in the area. Ask them what they liked and possibly didn’t like about certain processors. Most farmers are more than happy to share their opinion and tend to be very loyal to the processors that they feel do a good job.

5. Shop around. Most processors have websites that list their kill fee and price per pound for processing. Each facility does this differently and even though one place is less expensive it does not mean they are the best choice.

6. The USDA makes the rules for retail cuts and each animal is a little different. A simplified version of these regulations is that cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs must be inspected at a USDA slaughterhouse to be sold at retail. Poultry can be processed and sold on-farm or at farmers markets as long as you are doing the work and are processing less than 1,000 birds per year. Poultry can be sold to stores and restaurants if they are butchered under a 5-A license. The different types of 5-A licenses are complicated so review the booklet or talk to your local 5-A processor about your options for selling your finished poultry in retail establishments.

7. Custom slaughterhouses are not USDA certified. These facilities are most often used to process deer and wild game in season. They can and often do process livestock but these cuts cannot be sold as retail and will often have a “not for sale” stamp on the packaging. You can sell half, whole or quarter animals this way.

8. For a product such as bacon to be smoked it often has be shipped offsite to a different facility. The process of smoking is also governed by USDA rules and regulations and many slaughterhouses do not have the space to devote to this. This means it will take longer to get your cuts back if the pieces need to be sent out to another facility.

9. Talk to your butcher about less than ideal animals. There are times, especially with cattle, where the animal may look finished and ready from the outside but when they process the carcass, they find the meat to be less than ideal. Selling tough steaks is not easy, so instruct the processor that if the steaks are not up to muster he should grind them for burger or make stew meat. Granted you will not have the premium steaks to sell but you will not have to sell marginal steaks either.

10. Moving animals to processing is going to be the most traumatic thing they ever experience. From loading to riding in an enclosed box behind a moving vehicle, these are both unnatural and terrifying for the animals. There is no rationalizing this with the stock but you can make your load in easier by prepping in the days prior to putting them in trailer. Put the trailer in the field and put treats in it to entice them to walk in. If that is not possible then use treats and low-stress handling to catch, sort, and push through the handling facilities in preparation for the load out.

There are some great resources for all of the regulations dealing with processing in the state. Here is a link to the Resource Guide to Direct Marketing Livestock and Poultry in the state: The marketing guide is an invaluable resource for all things livestock and has an extensive section on slaughter and marketing regulations. This is the last stage in producing animal products. In some cases you have spent years tending to these animals so you absolutely must ensure that the product coming out the processor is the best it can be.


Jason Detzel is Livestock Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County.

Main Street Farms shares insights gained from their experience focusing on long-term business viability through a Profit Team project.

By Kat McCarthy and Dan Welch

At Main Street Farms, in Cortland NY, growth is the way of doing business. The farm has doubled in size annually. What started as a 1-acre market garden and 10,000 tilapia in an aquaponics system is now, after six years, 30 acres on three properties and 25,000 square feet of high tunnels and greenhouses, producing vegetables for over 300 CSA members, one farmers market, area restaurants, and wholesale customers.

Given their rapid growth, one would never expect that farmers Allan Gandelman and BobCat Bonagura didn’t begin their business with agricultural backgrounds. Allan, a high school social studies teacher, left the education field for the farm field, with a goal of growing vegetables for the local community and children in area schools. Shortly after starting the business, he recruited college roommate BobCat from an outdoor environmental education field to join the farm. Both have a love of learning and are passionate about feeding the community and educating about local food. In 2016, products from the farm made it into the school where Allan once taught, fulfilling his aspirations to feed students nutritious local vegetables. Demonstrating their value of community engagement, the farmers have also served on various local agricultural and environmental boards, and offered classroom presentations and tours, in addition to participating in local school events.

Since its launch seven years ago, the farm has occupied about eight different properties; 2017 marked the first year that the farm has not moved one or more of its sites between seasons. With a long-term lease for land, Allan and BobCat now are focusing on modifying existing facilities and have leased a 4,000 square foot warehouse for post-harvest packing and cold storage, and a commercial kitchen for the farm and another local business.

Staff at the farm harvest kale for the CSA.
Photographer: Zack Bolton

Shortly after the farm launched, Allan recognized a need to scale up production in order to develop a sustainable operation. This need was informed by the evaluation of profit and loss statements, enterprise analysis of individual crops to determine profitability per foot, and time studies of labor use. With a local average household income of $30,000, Allan believed the pathway for growth was to produce and sell more volume of diverse vegetables, not just more high-profit specialty crops.

As a result, Allan applied to the Small Farm Program’s Profit Team Project to explore opportunities scale up the business. He elaborates that over time the focus has been to increase production so supply outweighs demand, increase CSA memberships, and create access to a reliable processing facility. To date, the profit team project has helped with this goal by providing support to visit six other farms to learn about systems and best practices, offset attorney fees for the land lease, and work with an outside consultant to apply for GAP certification.

The benefits from this project were numerous. The farm’s new packing shed and GAPS certification would likely not have happened as quickly without the support of the project. Within the past three years, Main Street Farms has also scaled up equipment, and transitioned from one 47 horse power Kubota to approximately 8 tractors to save labor and increase efficiency. Additionally, the farm has invested in a large high efficiency cooler, land lease, and two H2A laborers as a result of work on the profit team project.

Allan also notes that the project has impacted farm management, profit and quality of life. Over the course of the project, Allan used a portion of grant to visit, shadow and interview other regional, more experienced farmers. He was able to see how they operate, to learn their successes and mistakes, and by reflection, to identify inefficiencies and possible solutions for Main Street Farms. During these visits, Allan also discussed how data and financials, such as gross sales, employee pay, cash flow and debt, caninform the development of short- and long-term goals. These insights helped informed Allan’s decisions around infrastructure investments. Additionally, by seeing how others created a work-life balance, Allan learned strategies to implement on his own farm to support long-term quality of life improvements. He was inspired by one farmer who had established a structure so the farm family could take vacations every August, while others demonstrated strategies for balancing on- and off-farm work.

Looking to the future, Main Street Farms intends to continue following the plan it has set-forth, keeping a focus on establishing existing enterprises before expanding into new endeavors. “At this point, we just need to keep following the path that we have in front of us,” Allan notes, indicating the importance in staying focused and letting decisions play out.  Allan’s next profit team project would be to focus on improving production and management practices to maximize profit. He would start by visiting larger growers. He notes that learning about business planning and technical expertise go hand in hand, as an organization scales up.

A Partial Budget to Understand Costs & Benefits

Main Street Farms now harvests lettuce from the field, packs it into crates, and stores it directly in the highly efficient cooler.
Photographer: Kat McCarthy

On a tour of another farm, Allan observed a useful strategy to address maintaining food quality and improving food safety, while improving handling efficiency. By using a high efficiency cooler, the host farm was able to cool lettuce and other greens from field with less handling. At the time, lettuce harvested at Main Street Farms was cooled by submerging in cold water, air dried, and then put in storage. This resulted in the produce having to be handled at least twice from the field to box, while potentially reducing produce quality. Additionally, cooling field grown produce to the right temperature in the right amount of time is key for food safety. Using the new method to keep lettuce cool; it could be directly transferred from the field to cold storage. By adopting this approach the farm was able to save 4-5 hours of labor per week on head lettuce alone. This strategy also improved product quality and has led to increased profitability in the farm’s greens enterprise.

To evaluate this new option, Main Street Farms had to analyze if the capital investment in the cooler would be offset by the reduced cost and increased revenue from the investment. For a relatively low capital investment like a walk-in cooler, one may choose to start with developing a partial budget (Table 1).

A partial budget looks at a potential change in a farm business to see if it makes sense financially. The additional costs of the potential change and any reduction in income are on one side of the budget. On the other side are any increase in income and reduced costs. These two columns are added together, and if the additional income and reduced costs are greater, it should result in additional profit for the farm. It is important to keep in mind additional uses for the investment, such as storing winter vegetables for a longer period of time. For longer term investments, one should allocate costs and income on an annual basis. For a more thorough analysis of capital investments, and for larger investments, it would be recommended to perform a net present value assessment. The example below shows how a partial budget could be used for buying a walk-in cooler.

Partial Budget for Walk-in Cooler
Increase in Net Income Decrease in Net Income
Item Amount Item Amount
Improved Produce Quality $750.00
Decrease in Cost Increase in Cost
Item Amount Item Amount
Labor $2,131.00 Walk-in Cooler (annual) $2,000.00
Electricity Use $250.00
Total Increase $2,881.00 Total Decrease $2,250.00
Change in Net Income $631.00
Labor Savings: 5.5 hours/wk, $15.50/hr cost, 35 wk season
Walk in Cooler: $30,000 cost, 15 year life


Strategies for Success

Allan offers this advice to farmers who are growing their business:

  • Constantly seek new information and learn skills to support positive evolution. By meeting with outside consultants and shadowing other farmers, Allan was able to incorporate successful strategies from others, while tailoring techniques to meet Main Street Farm’s unique needs. In meeting with a farm in Pennsylvania, Allan discovered that by investing in a high efficiency cooler he could avoid washing heads of lettuce, reducing staff time, making GAPS compliance easier, and ultimately saving 30% on the production cost of the head of lettuce by reduced handling.
  • Collect and use data to inform management decisions. For example, to understand the labor cost of a crop, Allan conducts studies where he times how long it takes an employee to handle (i.e. bunch, wash, etc.) a specific amount of a crop. Through these time studies, Allan understands labor costs for each product. As a result, the farm has a keen understanding of productivity metrics and costs. This data can be applied to conduct an enterprise analysis, which informs costs and payback period for investments in equipment.
  • Network with other business owners, even if they are not farmers. For the past three years, Allan has been meeting monthly with a peer advisory group of other business owners in the local community, where they share and discuss their own business financials and numbers. He stated that “they are very valuable meetings and we haven’t missed one month since we started.” For example, at one of these meetings, Allan was posed with this question: Insurance companies send their customers a reoccurring bill, rather than stopping service for two seasons – so why not offer a year-round CSA to encourage customer retention? As a result, Main Street Farms is now operating a subscription “pay as you go” CSA for customers that doesn’t end in the fall, but instead continues until the customer cancels.


Kat McCarthy worked with the Beginning Farmer Profit Teams as the Beginning Farmer Project Coordinator for the Cornell Small Farms Program from March 2017 through May 2018. Dan Welch is the Business Planning Director at NY FarmNet and has been involved with the profit team project since 2015.

Information for this summary was collected in June 2017. For more information about the Profit Team Project, please visit 

This project was a collaboration of the Cornell Small Farms Program, NY Farm Viability Institute, and NY FarmNet, and made possible with funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2015-70017-22882.

By Guy Ames, ATTRA 

Organic certification verifies that fruit is produced according to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic standards. See for details of the standards. In general, the regulations make several requirements of certified organic fruit:

  • Produced without genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge 

    Organic Magness pears. Photo: Guy Ames, NCAT

  • Managed in a manner that conserves natural resources and biodiversity 
  • Raised per the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List) 
  • Overseen by a USDA-authorized certifying agent 

All National Organic Program regulations for crops apply to tree fruits. The only regulation specifically pertaining to orchards is 7 CFR §205.204(a)(4): 

“Nonorganically produced planting stock to be used to produce a perennial crop may be sold, labeled, or represented as organically produced only after the planting stock has been maintained under a system of organic management for a period of no less than 1 year…” 

Basic Principles
Numerous pests and diseases, coupled with the high cosmetic standards of the market, make commercial organic tree fruit production difficult, especially in the East. The relative permanence of an orchard provides ecological stability, including opportunities for soil conservation and soil building. On the other hand, that relative permanence can allow the build-up of some pests, diseases and weeds since crop rotation is eliminated as a pest-management tool for all but the cover crop in the aisles. 

Transitioning to Organic Disease Control in Orchards
Disease-resistant cultivars should be the foundation of an organic disease management program. However, many popular commercial cultivars have little or no genetic resistance to diseases. Furthermore, only a few cultivars have across-the-board resistance to all the major diseases in an area, and these cultivars are generally not well known to consumers. 

  • Sulfur and copper-type fungicides/bactericides are the mainstays of organic disease management; however, they are problematic, especially in the humid East where they must be on plant surfaces before a rain to pr vent infection, but can easily be washed off by rain.
  • Agricultural-grade antibiotics are no longer allowed in organic production for fire blight control in apples and pears. 
  • New-generation disease management tools, like microbial antagonists of certain pathogens, are becoming available, but are also problematic, especially in the East, where disease pressure is higher.
  • Cultural techniques for managing tree fruit diseases mostly involve opening up the trees with pruning and training to promote rapid drying of plant surfaces after rain. These techniques are generally not adequate by themselves to control diseases, but can augment other approaches.
  • Flail mowing of prunings or removal of prunings from the orchard removes an important source of disease inoculum. 


Transitioning to Organic Insect and Mite Control in Orchards 

  • Several key pests, such as codling moth, plum curculio (only east of the Rockies), cherry fruit fly, and stink bugs can render the better part of a fruit crop unsaleable if ignored. Consumers, in general, are not accepting of insect damage on, or especially in, a fruit. Because of the many pests that attack tree fruits and the low tolerance for damage, the grower needs to understand the life cycles of the pests and the points at which they are vulnerable to management.
  • “Particle film technology” using a finely pulverized kaolin clay product, Surround™, has revolutionized organic insect management in tree fruits in the past two decades, making organic control of stubborn pests like plum curculio possible. Surround™ controls most tree fruit pests if fruit and leaves are adequately covered. Three problems bear mentioning: 1) Surround™ does weather off with time and rain, so multiple applications can be necessary, 2) if it doesn’t weather off or get washed off in a brusher/washer, residues will remain on fruit, 3) Surround™ readily precipitates out of solution in the spray tank, so the tank must be constantly agitated while applying.
  • At least one botanical insecticide, neem, and several relatively new microbials—e.g., Spinosad™ and Beauvaria bassiana—can be effective against particular pests.
  • Pheromone disruption systems for specific pests, like codling moth and oriental fruit moth, are effective.
  • Conservation of habitat and food sources (e.g., certain wildflowers) encourages beneficial insects and other organisms and can augment insect and mite control in orchards.


Transitioning to Organic Weed Management in Orchards 

Sooty blotch and flyspeck are serious cosmetic disorders on apples in the East. Photo: Robyn Metzger, NCAT

  • Crop rotation is impossible in an orchard situation. Pernicious weeds, like bermudagrass in the Almond trees in bloom. South and quackgrass in the North, are hard to control organically, especially if you can’t rotate to a smother crop. However, a thick cover crop in the aisles can keep weeds like bermudagrass from getting started and moving under the tree canopy. Also, the aisles can be planted (and rotated) to various cover crops for advantages such as providing mulch material, enhancing pest control, and contributing to tree nutrition.
  • Mulch can be part of a good weed management strategy but can also encourage pests like mice and voles. Wood chip mulches don’t harbor rodents and have performed well in research trials.
  • Precision, tractor-mounted mechanical weeders that prevent trunk damage are effective but not in mulched trees.
  • Flame weeding and organic herbicides can be effective where weeds are short and applications are repeated, but the multiple applications necessary can get costly. No systemic herbicides are available for organic production, making control of some weeds very difficult. 


Organic Fertility in Orchards 

  • Liming should occur prior to planting and in accordance with soil tests.
  • Foliar analysis coupled with soil tests will give the best indication of tree nutrient status.
  • Pre-plant cover crops are advised for both fertility and weed control.
  • Nutrient contribution of cover crops in the aisles between rows appears to be small and should not be relied upon alone for fertility. (However, cover crops have other beneficial impacts on soil and the orchard ecosystem, such as minimizing erosion, improving water infiltration, and providing habitat for beneficial insects.) 
  • In general, fruit trees are not heavy feeders, and their needs are often met by decomposing mulches, com- post applications, and/or organic foliar feeding. In fact, too much nitrogen can induce problems like fire blight and soft fruit.
  • With education and experience, most fruit growers will learn to recognize the symptoms of nutrient problems: inadequate growth of shoots, chlorotic color of leaves, fruit disorders (e.g., apple measles), etc. 


Market Considerations for Organic Fruit
Demand for organic fruit is usually high, and the premium for organically certified fruit is usually correspondingly high. In the West, brokers, some specializing in organic fruit, handle most of the fruit; much of it is headed to the East where organic production of tree fruits is comparatively small. In the East, the small amount of organic fruit produced is most often retailed directly by the farmer, but there is beginning to be some distribution through food hubs. 

In the East, growers will often have to educate clientele about why their fruit looks the way it does. Direct contact with the end consumer is usually necessary for this education. Growers, especially in the East, should have a marketing plan that includes value-added products like cider, sauce, jams, and jellies to provide a use for damaged and cosmetically inferior fruit. 


Further Resources 

ATTRA’s series on organic fruit production, including publications on organic production of cherries, apples, peaches, plums, and pears. Access at or call 1-800-346-9140. 

Peck, Gregory, Ian Merwin, et al. 2009. A Growers Guide to Organic Apples. NYS IPM Publication No. 223. Cornell University. Ithaca, NY. 

WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center. Organic & Integrated Tree Fruit Production. 


University of California Small Farm Program.  

USDA Organic Regulations 7 CFR 205: 

USDA National Organic Program Handbook: 


NOP 5029 – Guidance: Seeds, Annual Seedlings and Planting Stock in Organic Crop Production. 

USDA National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances: 


This article was developed with support from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service, National Organic Program 


Produced by the National Center for Appropriate Technology • 1-800-275-6228 (1-800-ASK-NCAT) 

(Parent organization to the ATTRA Project, 

a teen-focused entrepreneurial program in Southern NJ offers job training and education

By Suzanne Cope

Last fall, a half-dozen teenagers from the Southern New Jersey city of Camden brought hot peppers they’d grown in an urban garden to a rented industrial kitchen. Donning latex gloves, they de-seeded and chopped the chilies before adding them to vinegar and salt. A few days later, they processed and bottled the resulting product into their own brand of hot sauce, Kapow!

Youth working to pack hot sauce. Photo courtesy of CFET.

The group is part of a teen-focused entrepreneurial program called Eco Interns, offered by the Camden-area Center for Environmental Transformation (CFET). The mission of this nonprofit is to create a sustainable, healthy source of fresh fruit and vegetables—through community gardens and a farmers’ market—for an underserved urban community, while offering job training and education with a focus on meeting environmental challenges.

The interns do everything from picking and preparing the peppers to processing and selling their hyper-local, all-natural hot sauce. And they’re paid a competitive hourly wage to do so. In the early stages of the annual summer program, about a dozen interns work in one of the organization’s urban gardens, cook nutritious food, and run a stand at a weekly summer farmers’ market. The garden has both raised and in-ground beds, a greenhouse, a beehive, and a fruit orchard, all tended primarily by the teenagers.

In a neighborhood where jobs—particularly for young people—are hard to come by, participants say they appreciate the program and the training it provides. “I was very grateful to have this experience,” one teenager reflected in a writing activity at the end of the summer. “I learned a lot of things that I plan on carrying with me for the rest of my life.”

The inaugural cohort of teenagers conceived of Kapow! three seasons ago from the ground—or garden—up, working with a designer and small-business consultant to get the product into the hands of customers. During the first year of this entrepreneurial enrichment program, which takes place after the summer Eco-Intern program has ended, they made and sold a little more than 100 bottles; in 2017, that number rose to 450.

The final product. Photo courtesy of CFET.

Bottles of Kapow! are mostly sold at CFET events, and through people and organizations that reach out to the group directly. Recently a representative of Subaru came across Kapow! at a CFET event and ordered a few dozen bottles to use as corporate giveaways. All of the proceeds are invested back into the program, where they help pay for additions like the recent beehives that CFET has acquired for its gardens.

Participants learn much more than how to produce a condiment; they gain experience with every aspect of developing and building a small business. The initiative provides not just diverse job training but also nutritional education and a source of fresh, locally grown produce in a region labeled a food desert for its lack of access to fresh food. CFET grew out of an effort by parishioners at the nearby Sacred Heart Church, who were so moved by volunteer work they had performed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina that they sought to create similar change in their own backyard.

The entrepreneurship program that developed Kapow! began with the help of a grant from New Jersey’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives as a way to extend CFET’s efforts. As the program grows in size and popularity, community groups say local nutrition and food security is improving and area youth are better prepared for higher-paying jobs and further schooling—opportunities that long felt out of reach in this community.

In addition to making Kapow!, CFET manages urban garden spaces around Camden that include community gardens, fruits orchard, and a plant nursery, and offers gardening programs to younger children (called Garden SEEDS).

“Our first mission is respect for the environment,” says Teresa Niedda, CFET’s program director, of the group’s goals. “But we are also concerned with food issues: the availability of fresh, local food for the youth workers and the local community. Also, of course, we’re committed to youth development—giving Camden youth a safe place they can go to learn about the environment, health, and job training, among other things.”

Meeting a Need in Camden

The decade-old CFET is located in the city’s Waterfront South neighborhood, a mix of residential and industrial areas where shipbuilding was once the biggest industry. Throughout Camden, more than a third of the almost 75,000 residents live in poverty, compared to the United States’ 12.7 percent average poverty rate.

And whereas 14 percent of Americans nationally receive federal nutrition assistance programs, 65 percent of Camden County residents are eligible, and studies have shown that there are many food-insecure families in the city who don’t qualify for or receive SNAP. In response to the widespread food insecurity and the limited job opportunities available for young people, CFET chose to focuse on teenagers.

Participants have the ability to work their way up from an eco intern to a senior farmer, at which point they can take part in community food justice discussions, lead workshops, speak at Earth Day events, and collaborate with high schools and colleges that now come to Camden for service learning and to learn about food justice issues.

In addition to benefitting participants, the program serves the local community. The farm offers growing space and a green oasis for the urban neighborhood. The weekly farm stand the teenagers run provides one of the few sources of fresh produce in the area and the kids are allowed to bring home any excess from the week.

Rutgers researcher Kate Cairns studied the effect of the program on its participants and found that the added income and fresh food home have both made noticeable differences in their lives. It has also taught them skills that will affect their ability to provide for themselves throughout their lives. “Now I don’t have to worry about [accessing fresh food] because I can do it myself if it ever got serious,” one participant in the study was quoted as saying.

Youth working at the farmers market. Photo courtesy of CFET.

Cairns’s research also highlights the lack of opportunity for teenagers in Camden. In her article, she shared participants’ stories of being encouraged to sell drugs instead of working at CFET.

She says one youth told her that a student had been approached by a man who asked, “Why you doin’ this for $9 an hour?” While waving a stack of cash, he continued, “Do you know how fast I can make this much money?” Cairns notes how appreciative the participants are to be part of a program that provides options beyond those neighborhood pressures.

While CFET doesn’t yet have a system for tracking youth who have finished the program, Niedda says it’s clear that interest is growing. They no longer have to advertise for summer workers, and as many as 35 people applied this summer through word-of-mouth alone. Interest in the locally grown produce has increased as well. “When I first started, the youth just weren’t into the healthy food,” she says with a laugh. “Last year’s group fought over taking the extra food home. It was amazing.”

In 2013, Niedda notes, only three Camden high school graduates who took the SATs were considered college-ready. But things are changing. “[Last year’s] senior farmer and assistant farmer are both in college,” she says, while another former participant is majoring in botany thanks to his work at CFET.

The success of Kapow! has led students to expand their offerings. Last fall, they created Midas Touch Honey, made from last summer’s newly productive hives. Working with a pro-bono designer, they came up with a branding concept: a queen who turns everything she touches into golden honey. This is a fitting metaphor for their own experiences: As a result of the program, they see their futures looking brighter. As one teenage participant says, “I know I could sustain myself because I learned so much from here.”

Reprinted from CIVIL EATS, and excellent online resource for agriculture and food system articles. Originally posted on: July 24, 2018 Visit

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